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5 things you didn't know about the Gassy Jack statue

You might know a few things about "Gassy" Jack Deighton, but do you know about how his statue came to be in Gastown?
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The Gassy Jack statue was put in storage after it was toppled. The Squamish Nation will decide on its fate.

No matter people's opinion of 'Gassy' Jack Deighton, there is a statue of him.

On Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, the statue was toppled as participants of the annual Memorial Women's March watched.

Deighton, considered the "founder" of Gastown, was the target of anger due to his 1870 marriage to a 12-year-old local Indigenous girl named Quahail-ya.

Here are five facts about that controversial statue:

1. It was erected illegally as a Valentine's gift, but the mayor hated it

The statue started off controversial. It was commissioned by four local businessmen trying to revive Gastown; they got sculptor Vern Simpson to create the 6'6" bronze figure and it was erected on Friday, Feb. 13, 1970 according to newspaper clippings from the time.

On the city's public art registry, they call it a Valentine's gift. However, the city wasn't too impressed with the stunt and the mayor thought it was rubbish, threatening to haul it to the dump.

It took the city 10 days to give it temporary approval, so for the first few days of its public display, it was akin, from a perspective, to sculpted graffiti.

2. It was moved, twice

While it's most well known at its most recent location on the southwest corner of the rather awkward meeting of Water, Carrall, Alexander and Powell streets, the statue didn't start there.

But it didn't start very far away.

Its first home was on the edge of the road in front of Hotel Europe at the same intersection; archival photos show it actually on the crosswalk. There was no plinth, or platform either, other than the whiskey barrel.

It was then moved across the road to 1 Alexander St. which is now the patio for Local. When exactly it moved to the southwest corner isn't clear, but photos from the 1980s show it on the plinth from which it was toppled recently.

3. It was decapitated

Shortly after being put in place in front of the Hotel Europe, 'Gassy Jack' lost his head as someone decapitated the statue in October of 1970. A $50 reward (about $350 today) was put out for the missing piece.

It was found in December of the same year in a parking garage.

4. There's a Gassy Jack 2

In 2018 Herschel, the backpack company, commissioned a Gassy Jack 2 by Vern Simpson, the same artist who created the original back in 1970.

It was placed in the company's flagship store in Gastown, not far from the original statue.

However, it's no longer there.

"The sculpture was removed from the store in June 2020 because we no longer felt that the sculpture aligned with our values. It is not on display at Herschel Supply Robson or any of our other stores," a spokesperson for Herschel tells Vancouver Is Awesome.

5. A petition for its removal hit 23,100 signatures

This isn't the first time the statue has been targeted due to Deighton's past. In June 2020 it was covered in red paint and a sign reading MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls) was leaned against it.

That sparked a Change.org petition demanding the statue be removed.

"Statues are erected to honour individuals in our society," wrote Josh McKenna in the description of the petition. "'Gassy' Jack Deighton never deserved this honour, and his likeness being displayed prominently in Gastown is a terrible symbol of Vancouver upholding and honouring violence towards and oppression of indigenous people."

That petition has garnered 23,100.

Where is it now?

After it was toppled and people left the square city workers hauled the statue away. 

"The statue will be put into storage until appropriate next steps are identified by Squamish Nation," a city spokesperson tells Vancouver Is Awesome. "Squamish Nation is leading this process and the City will follow their guidance."